When the Covid-19 coronavirus started spreading across the world, people started panicking. They did things you would expect during an epidemic, like buying extra face masks, avoiding crowded places, and practising good hygiene.
But there is still one inexplicable behaviour exhibited by people of all colours and creeds that boggles the mind: the panic buying of toilet paper.
You may have read about a brawl that recently broke out at an Australian supermarket where three women were caught on video fighting over toilet paper.
Many of you might be scratching your heads at this bizarre panic purchase; why toilet paper of all things? Do people automatically experience an increase in bowel movements during an epidemic?
As Albert Einstein once asked, “Why do we care so much about our bums?”
Well, let Goody Feed explain this strange phenomenon in language even your newborn baby can understand.
Now, if you prefer to watch the explanation instead, check out this video we’ve done:
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Still here and prefer to read? Here goes.
1. Herd Mentality
If my boss came out right now and said “Who wants to work until 11 pm with me today?”, I’d pretend I was so engrossed with my work that I didn’t hear his question, because I’m the only writer in the office.
But if he asked this same question tomorrow and all the other writers answered “Me!”, I’d say “Me!” too, because I’d be influenced by their annoying work ethic.
That’s exactly what’s happening here too, according to experts.
Associate Professor Nitika Garg from the University of New South Wales, said, “They think if this person is buying it, if my neighbour is buying there’s got to be a reason and I need to get in too,”.
So, it’s not that we’re naturally drawn to white butt-wiping paper in a crisis; it’s that we feel like we have to because other people are doing it.
2. Regaining Control
When there is an epidemic, aside from taking some precautions, there’s nothing you can actually do to guarantee that you do not contract the disease.
This takes away our control from the situation, and because humans are such control freaks, we can’t handle that.
Since we can’t control how bad the outbreak is or who contracts the disease, we do the one thing we know we’re capable of: purchasing something practical.
Niki Edwards, School of Public Health and Social Work, Queensland University of Technology, views toilet paper as a symbol of control.
Newborn: What is a symbol?
It’s already impressive that you can read at your age, please don’t overdo it.
Newborn: Ok *cries*
Niki said, “We use it to “tidy up” and “clean up”. It deals with a bodily function that is somewhat taboo”.
Basically, stockpiling toilet paper is a way of compensating for a loss of control, and we compensate by maintaining control over something we can: the cleanliness of our butts.
3. Perception of Scarcity
In case you didn’t know, toilet paper does not cure the Covid-19 virus, nor does it prevent infection.
Psychologist Emma Kenny points out that when we buy toilet paper, we’re not actually reacting to the epidemic; we’re “reacting to the fear of what’s going to happen if people all panic buy”.
This, in turn, creates panic buying which feeds the whole cycle, she said.
You may have read articles about supermarkets being wiped out with pictures of empty shelves, leading you to panic and grab whatever you can lay your hands on at the nearest supermarket.
So, if you hear that all the supermarkets in Singapore are starting to run out of toilet paper, what do you do? You buy toil-
Paranoid Reader: Wait, supermarkets in Singapore are running out of toilet paper?
What? No, I was just giving an example of-
Paranoid Reader: Oh my god our butts are going to be dirty! *rushes to Giant*
As I was saying, we buy toilet paper because we keep reading about how it is being wiped out of supermarkets and fear there won’t be enough for us.
It’s the survival of the fittest: who cares if other butts are clean if mine isn’t?
4. It’s Bigger
Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, an expert in consumer and behavioural science at the University College London, simply believes that it’s the size of toilet paper that makes it one of the most common panic purchases during a crisis.
He said that because toilet paper is big in size, we are psychologically drawn to purchasing it in times of crisis.
“The bigger they are, the more important we think they are,” he said.
An expert from Central Queensland University echoed this sentiment, saying “we’re noticing the toilet paper more than the other things because toilet paper packs are big items that take up a lot of shelf space.”
“Seeing a small product sold out at the supermarket (such as hand sanitiser) is not that unusual, and it’s only a small hole in the shelf that is often temporarily filled with nearby products,” he said.
“But if the toilet paper is gone, that’s a massive amount of shelf space that can’t readily be replaced with other things nearby.”
Essentially, what we’re scared of is not the virus, but that the virus will take away some of our basic comforts and necessities.
But if you’re still not convinced, you’d be happy to know that scientists at Harvard have made an astonishing discovery after decades of research: there are other ways to clean your ass.
Even if all the supermarkets were to run out of toilet paper, you could just use water to wash your butts. It’s healthier anyway.
Paranoid Reader: Oh no, have the supermarkets run out of toilet paper again?!
You really have a problem.